"That was a career-determining moment for me."
Carl Bennett '40, M'41 (mathematics) was accepted into the Army in June 1944, but before he could report for active duty, the Manhattan Project came calling. The international research program working on creating the world's first atomic bomb needed a statistician and contacted the University of Michigan's math department in hopes of finding one. Bennett, who was pursuing his doctorate and teaching there, got word of the job on a Wednesday, interviewed on Friday and was at work at the University of Chicago on Monday.
"That was a career-determining moment for me," says Bennett, who earned a master's in math at Bucknell and Michigan (1942) before completing his doctorate in 1952. "I suspect that if I had not been available that week, I would have gone into the Army and then back to Michigan with no more idea of what to do other than getting a Ph.D. and teaching somewhere."
Bennett spent four months as a junior chemist at Chicago, then two years as senior chemist and quality control supervisor for the analytical laboratories at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. His job was to devise metrics relating to quality control and accurate tracking of nuclear materials.
Bennett's interest in numbers stemmed from his undergraduate days. He was just 18 when he graduated from Bucknell, but he was part of a strong nucleus of math students at the time. The intensity of the academics was extremely influential, Bennett says, as was the guidance of Professor Paul Benson '34.
"We got to be very close friends," Bennett says. "He's probably more responsible for my career in statistics than any other person."
His prominence as a statistical consultant continued to rise over more than four decades of work at the Hanford Works and Battelle Memorial Institute in Washington state. He was frequently asked by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to serve on specialized task forces and advisory groups. In the late 1960s, he served as a U.S. representative for several working groups the International Atomic Energy Agency convened to establish inspection protocols to ensure that nuclear materials in non-weapons countries were not being used for military purposes.
"Professionally, I had more influence on these activities and the continued development of inspection protocols and the evaluation of their effectiveness than on anything that happened back in 1944," Bennett says. "That was my bailiwick.".
Posted February 3, 2012
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